CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera sees one potential flaw with his team’s stellar defensive play so far this season.
“Apparently we like to bite on the double moves,” Rivera said.
The Panthers (9-3) have allowed the fewest points in the NFL, but their secondary suddenly seems susceptible to big plays. Rivera said his team needs to become more disciplined.
Carolina’s secondary faces its toughest test of the season Sunday night when it faces Drew Brees and the league’s No. 3 passing attack with sole possession of first place in the NFC South on the line.
“We know we have to correct that,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said of the deep balls. “Our coaches have talked to that about that.”
Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson got by cornerback Drayton Florence for a 60-yard gain Sunday.
Mike Wallace beat Munnerlyn for 53 and 57 yards the week before that in Miami. Wallace would have had two other big plays but Ryan Tannehill overthrew him on one deep ball and safety Mike Mitchell broke up a deep pass to save the victory on Miami’s final possession.
Munnerlyn believes some of it is a reflection of Carolina’s focus on being an aggressive defense. The Panthers have forced 26 turnovers on the season and have registered 39 sacks with their pressure defense.
“It’s trying to be aggressive and trying to make every play,” Munnerlyn said. “But the key is trying to play within the defense. We didn’t do that on those double moves. We didn’t play within the defensive scheme.”
Munnerlyn said it’s particularly important to not bite on those moves this week.
Brees needs 206 yards Sunday night to eclipse 4,000 for the season. He’s thrown an NFC-high 29 touchdown passes.
“You have to be smart with this guy,” Munnerlyn said. “All of the pump-faking, he can get you with that. We have to make plays when they come to you.”
Said safety Mike Mitchell: “It’s not something that has always happened to us, but it has shown in the last two games. Obviously we want to get that corrected and I think coach Rivera has gotten it corrected. The only thing to do now is pick it off in the game to show that we have it corrected.”
The Panthers will surely scour the game film from New Orleans’ 34-7 loss to Seattle on Monday night looking for tips on how to shut down the Saints.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton knows that.
“They do enough things scheme-wise that cause you problems,” Payton said of Carolina’s defense. “The fundamentals of rushing the passer, playing good coverage and tackling are things that you see. You’ve seen them kind of blossom as the year has gone on. They have new faces there, some younger players, veteran players, it is a good mix.”
Said Saints tight end Benjamin Watson: “It’s kind of like we’re going to be facing a tough defense just like we just faced in Seattle.”
Of course, the difference is this game will be at the Superdome where the Saints have been nearly unstoppable.
New Orleans is 6-0 at home and averaging 33.2 points per game, compared to 3-3 on the road and 18.8 points per game. Brees has thrown 19 touchdown passes and three interceptions at home and 10 TD passes and five interceptions on the road.
“I think on the turf it helps in terms of their timing because they have an indoor facility as well,” Rivera said. “They practice on turf. And turf does make a difference because of the timing. It’s a little faster paced as far as running routes and stuff like that.”
Florence said the Panthers’ goal on defense remains the same – to allow the fewest points in the league. They’ve allowed just 157 overall or 13 points per game, by far the best in the league.
So he’s not worried about a few deep passes becoming a lingering problem.
Even after allowing the long pass to Jackson last week, Florence ran him down at the 4-yard line. Three plays later, the Panthers recovered a Mike Glennon fumble to turn the tide and went on to win 27-6.
“We’re an attack-style defense and that’s what we’re going to play,” Florence. “As long as we play within the scheme, well, the numbers speak for themselves. Anytime you can hold a team to six points, you’re doing your job.”